Public sector innovation has a “first mile” problem

Article by Catarina Tully, and Giulio Quaggiotto: “Even if progress has been uneven, the palette of innovation approaches adopted by the public sector has considerably expanded in the last few years: from new sources of data to behavioural science, from foresight to user-centred design, from digital transformation to system thinking. And yet, the frustration of many innovation champions within the government is palpable. We are all familiar with innovation graveyards and, in our learning journeys, probably contributed to them in spite of all best intentions:

  • Dashboards that look very “smart” and are carefully tended to by few specialists but never used by their intended target audience: decision-makers.
  • Prototypes or experiments that were developed by an innovation unit and meant to be handed over to a line ministry or city department but never were.
  • Beautifully crafted scenarios and horizon scanning reports that last the length of a press conference or a ribbon-cutting event and are quickly put on the shelves after that.

The list could go on and on.

Innovation theatre is a well known malaise (paraphrasing Sean McDonald: “the use of [technology] interventions that make people feel as if a government—and, more often, a specific group of political leaders—is solving a problem, without it doing anything to actually solve that problem.”)

In the current climate, the pressure to “scale” quick-fixes in the face of multiple crises (as opposed to the hard work of addressing root causes, building trust, and structural transformations) is only increasing the appetite for performative theatre. Eventually, public intrapreneurs learn to use the theatre to their advantage: let the photo op with the technology gadget or the “futuristic” scenario take the centre stage so as to create goodwill with the powers that be, while you work quietly in the backstage to do the “right” thing…(More)”.